We have being blessed with a lot of new faces in our house church recently which has sparked a need to start going through some of the basics regarding why we gather like we do as opposed to the more traditional types of church meetings that people are used to. I figured that while I am preparing these teachings for our local gatherings I may as well put them out on the blog as well. So this is part 1 of what at this stage looks like a 14 part series on the theology behind house church meetings. Some of what I write about will be in direct contrast to what a lot of institutional churches do and teach. Don’t take it personally, most of my friends still prefer gathering in a traditional manner, many of my facebook pals are even pastors, and we are all still able to get along (with 1 or 2 exceptions who think I’ve completely lost the plot). Take this for what it is then; you are free to dismiss what I say or to accept it. Either way if Christ is your Lord then we are still brothers and have enough in common to work together for the kingdom of God and I hope that you see it that way as well. With all of that being said, let me start this series off where any conversation about the church should start; with Jesus.
“And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. – Colossians 1:17-18
As ISIS have so horrifically demonstrated to the world of late, a body separated from its head is dead. Likewise; a church disconnected from Christ is dead. It may look like a church. There may be a cross and a pulpit with an open bible on it and a hundred people sitting in neat little rows. But if Christ is not present, it is just a dead religious service creating the illusion of something more. Whether it is Calvary Chapel, Mars Hill, the Westborough Baptists or someone else our churches all look very much the same from the outside. You shake some hands, cart the children off somewhere, sing some songs, pass the offering, listen to a sermon, pray and go home. This format is not even restricted to Christian services. You will find pretty much the same thing happening in your local mosque. As A.W. Tozer once said:-
The average church has so established itself organizationally and financially that God is simply not necessary to it. So entrenched is its authority and so stable are the religious habits of its members that God could withdraw Himself completely from it and it could run on for years on its own momentum (1).
The harsh reality is that many churches can get by on programs and personalities alone. Consider what happened to the Mars Hill franchise when Mark Driscoll left; how does it happen that several churches closed their doors because one person left? Who was sustaining them? Who were they gathering to? I’m not saying that the people who went there were not true Christians but rather that there was something fundamentally wrong with their idea and practice of church if it was held together by a man. It happened to a church I used to go to as well; where the charismatic pastor left and the church closed up shop; only to emerge elsewhere under the same person but under a different name with some of his most devoted followers still in tow. The only person that a church should not be able to function without is Christ because He is the one that we should be gathering to every time that we get together. As William MacDonald puts it:-
Christ should be the gathering center of His people. We should be drawn by His presence, not by man. When believers see this and act upon it, the Local assembly need not be shaken by the departure of any man. An assembly where Christians gather to Christ has strength, stability and solidarity (2).
History repeats itself
Israel made a lot of mistakes in trying to follow God and sometimes we wonder how they got it so spectacularly wrong after everything God did for them. Yet church history reveals that we keep on making the same mistakes that they did. Consider Israel’s request for a king in 1 Samuel 8:4-15; Israel were meant to be set apart to their God but instead they longed to be like the other nations and requested a king to rule over them. Verse 7 in this chapter tells us that God reluctantly consented to their request for a king adding that “Israel had rejected Him”. God then goes on to warn the people of the consequences of their request. This included the king appointing people that would serve his agenda (verse 11). Interestingly verse 15 also says that the king would take a tithe from the people and give it to his officers and servants. It seems to me that the church is reaping what it has sown in denying the priesthood of all believers and setting men over themselves to rule and act as mediators between them and God. Most church ministries one can get involved in are generally there to serve the pastors ministry and are of little true value to the body. Hardly any of them even require spiritual giftings but rather just a willingness to serve the service. Hosea 8:4 says that “They set up kings, but not by Me; they made princes, but I did not acknowledge them.” The bible simply does not teach a hierarchy amongst believers esteeming one mans gifting over the rest of the bodies. Diotrephes is spoken harshly of by John in 3 John 9-11 for imitating what is evil in that he loved having preeminence in the church and for not receiving the brethren. I truly feel sorry for people thrust in to the position of preeminence in church because most of them are truly trying to point people to Christ but the system often serves in lifting up the preachers instead.
What Jesus had to say
The idea that a small group of people in the church have power to rule over the rest of the assembly is not biblical. Jesus taught in Matthew 28:18 that all authority in heaven and earth had being given to Him. He commands us in chapter 20:25-28 not to act like the Gentiles who exercise authority over one another. But if someone desires to be great they must rather become like a slave in serving others. In chapter 23:8-12 He takes this even further and forbids us from using titles of honor, “Do not call any man teacher, leader or Father for Christ is your teacher and God is your Father”; then He firmly reminds us that we “we are all brothers” and “anyone who seeks to exalt himself will be humbled”. In chapter 16 verse 18 He also reminds us that the church is His church, it does not belong to you, me or Pastor so and so. He purchased it and He will build it up. We are to consider it a privilege that He uses us to minister and labor in His work.
Any true servant in the body must be able to say as John the Baptist did in John 3:28-30. “I am not the Christ (anointed one), I proclaim Him, He must increase and I must decrease”. I urge you to remember that Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23), He is not the big head, the chief head or the heads head as some would have you believe. That word ‘head’ means ‘source’; for our very life as the body comes directly from Him.
And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:22-23
To sum it all up, I implore you to look to Jesus and hold fast to Him. “Let no one cheat you of your reward…hold fast to the head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God (3)”. The vast majority of the church today has not held fast to the head. It is obsessed with numbers, bank accounts, celebrity preachers and power. It believes that in order to serve God it must first serve itself. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Other posts in this series
Two kinds of church
The Lords supper
A church without tithing
On authority, submission, coverings and accountability
1 – From the book Tozer on Christian leadership.
2 – From Principles (pg67)
3 – Colossians 2:18-19